A systemwide study on all 10 University of Hawaiʻi campuses showed a large number of students have deep concerns about sustainability and climate change. A new sustainability minor equivalent, made up of classes that also count toward general education core requirements, approaches sustainability concepts in a coherent, locally focused manner.

Rebecca Tang, one of the first students to finish the minor equivalent, found the sustainability program after hearing about it in an economics class at Kapiʻolani Community College.

Rebecca Tang
Rebecca Tang with her “Reduce Reuse Refuse Recycle” sticker

“I became more and more interested in sustainability issues, and from there learned about the minor,” she said. “All the other courses [for the minor] just happened to be the rest of my prerequisites I needed for my degree, so it worked out like a dream.”

“Sustainability designated” course sections that also meet UH’s undergraduate general education requirements are wide ranging, which is one of the minor equivalent’s strengths. When students engage in sustainability from different angles, they can begin to find their voice on the subject.

“I love that the program gave me multiple perspectives on the same issues,” Tang said. “Looking at climate change from the different angles of an economics class, a biology class, an English literature class and a Pacific Island studies class really helped me to see the ‘bigger picture’ of sustainability and what we need to do to become a more sustainable society.”

The minor equivalent is now available at Kapiʻolani CC, Windward CC and Hawaiʻi CC, with Honolulu CC, Leeward CC and Kauaʻi CC launching in fall 2020. UH West Oʻahu and UH Mānoa are actively working on upper-division certificates to complement the minor-equivalent. UH Mānoa, UH West Oʻahu and UH Maui College also offer at least one sustainability-focused degree program. The minor equivalent gives students an introduction to the science of climate change, the value of indigenous knowledge systems and an overall awareness of the many dimensions of sustainability. Students gain tools and develop skills and networks with which they can engage in sustainability issues in a way that leverages their personal academic strengths and interests without taking additional classes.

Tang, who earned a liberal arts degree from Kapiʻolani CC and is working toward a business degree with an emphasis on marketing at UH Mānoa, based her capstone project on key principles of sustainability. In a section of her capstone exhibit at the Kapiʻolani CC Lama Library a personally designed poster hangs that reads “reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle.” Tang added this fourth message as an encouragement to take action.

“As consumers we have to actually refuse single-use plastic, we have to refuse what’s just been given to us as status quo,” she said.

Reusable bottles

For Tang, sustainability has become a lifestyle and something she will bring into her future studies.

“I would encourage any student going into any major to take the sustainability minor,” Tang said. “It really feels like you’re taking courses that are adding to you as a person, and whatever you go into, it’s going to benefit you. The minor gave me an enriched experience in college that I will never forget. It helped me become a better steward and a much more conscious consumer–which is what we need in our world! We need people to live with intentionality, making choices from their hearts. So if you’re searching for a meaningful college experience, consider getting the Sustainability minor.”

For more information on the sustainability minor equivalent on each campus, contact Professor Krista Hiser at hiser@hawaii.edu. Hiser is the director of the UH Center for Sustainability Across Curriculum and coordinates sustainability projects for the UH System Office of Academic Planning and Policy.

—By Heidi Sakuma